Mavs find their man
CMU hires Mines' Tom Spicer as its new athletic director
He built Colorado School of Mines into a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference contender in nearly every sport.
Now, Tom Spicer is ready for a different challenge.
The new Colorado Mesa University athletic director hopes to take the Mavericks’ teams from RMAC contenders to national contenders. He will be introduced at tonight’s NCAA Division II South Central Regional women’s basketball championship game at Brownson Arena.
“There is so much growth, so much potential and so much opportunity,” Spicer said after accepting the position Friday afternoon. “That’s what I do. I build things. Even though we’re not done at Mines, the bottom line is this is a great challenge. Quite frankly, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I think there are good people here. I think President (Tim) Foster has done a magnificent job transforming the institution, and it’s not done. I’d like to be a part of that.”
Spicer, 62, plans to start by June 1, although that hasn’t been finalized.
“Nobody does this by themselves,” Spicer said. “What we have accomplished at the institutions I’ve been at prior to Mesa is collectively identifying what the needs were, how to get from Point A to Point B and what the interests were and level of support there is to apply to those levels of interest. I’m fortunate enough to have an input and potentially give some insight to what we can do and to what level we can do it.”
Spicer, who has 40 years of experience as an administrator and coach, is in his ninth year as the director of athletics at Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
Mines won its first-ever RMAC All-Sports Cup Championship in 2011-12. The Orediggers were 18th in the Division II Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings for athletic success that year. They were 15th in 2009-10.
The football team became more competitive, making two NCAA playoff appearances and three consecutive postseason bowl games. The Orediggers’ men’s basketball team made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and the volleyball team made its fourth consecutive NCAA appearance this past fall. The women’s soccer and softball teams made their first NCAA appearance under Spicer’s watch.
Mines opened a student recreation center and a new arena for its basketball and volleyball teams during his tenure. Renovations were made to the softball and baseball fields, and construction has begun on a soccer stadium and track and field complex.
“The difference between that (when Spicer started at Mines) and here is Mesa is already competitive,” Spicer said. “(Mesa has) added a lot of new programs, which changes the demographics. What we have to figure out is how to maintain the competitive nature of the established programs that have been traditionally strong here while making those emerging sports more competitive. I think there’s quite a bit of difference between those two concepts versus what we had (at Mines).”
Colorado Mesa coaches expressed excitement about Spicer’s hiring.
“The thing I hear repeatedly is he is a great AD,” CMU men’s basketball coach Jim Heaps said. “We’re in a situation with the number of sports we have and the quality of sports we have, this institution deserves a great AD. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a good fit. I’m excited to work for him.”
Spicer will be the Mavericks’ eighth AD since Heaps became the head coach in 1996. Spicer is Mesa’s fourth AD since 2004.
“I talked to (Mines men’s basketball coach) Pryor Orser, and he says (Spicer) is a really hard worker,” Heaps said. “He’s always got your back. He’s always very supportive of the coaches and getting you what you have to have to compete at a high level.”
Mesa football coach Russ Martin might be new to CMU, but he’s known Spicer since 2004.
“When I first went to Kearney, Mines was a given, automatic-type win,” Martin said. “All you had to do was show up and you had a win.”
About the same time, Spicer started at Mines and the program started to improve.
Martin believes the Mavericks’ football team will continue to improve under Spicer.
“Tom’s done a great job with fundraising to get everything the coaches need, whether it’s scholarships, equipment or facilities,” Martin said. “We have great facilities here. It’s easy to recruit great young men here. For us, the two big things are solidifying the staff and also the scholarships to get those elite athletes. That’s the difference. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Spicer said Martin has the football program going in the right direction.
“Football is going to be a center point of the department,” Spicer said, “but let’s be honest, football isn’t the only sport here. The reality is we have to be concerned about the perception in our service area. Basically, football is an engine driver. If we use it properly, then every sport is going to gain and grow.”
Spicer said he will sit down with athletic department staff and people in the community to identify needs and interests.
He said he visited with a majority of the Mesa coaches and heard a need for more scholarship dollars.
“Scholarship dollars are one resource that drive the engine,” Spicer said. “It’s not the only resource, but under NCAA Division II statutes, you’re limited to what you can do with equivalent scholarships. It’s totally different than Division I. You’ve got to do a better job of packaging those situations.
“I can’t speak too much to the situation here because I don’t have the information to talk about it. I can tell you that is a major concern for the coaches. They have made the comment that there is a need for scholarship dollars. I don’t disagree, because the cost of a college education keeps going up. You’ve got to be creative.”
Before Spicer led Mines to more athletic success, he spurred his alma mater, Fort Hays State (Kan.) University, to success during his 15-year tenure there.
While Spicer was at Fort Hays State, the Tigers’ men’s and women’s basketball teams won national titles. The baseball team was the national runner-up in 2000.
Spicer, though, said he is most proud of the six academic national championship teams.
“We’re going to be academic,” he said. “We’re going to recruit great people.”
He led fundraising efforts that improved the football stadium and added synthetic surfaces on the football field and track along with a new two-story press box.
Spicer, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Fort Hays, was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2008.
Spicer’s wife, Kathy, is from the Denver metro area. They have three daughters and one son.